HARBOR SEALS BASKING AT BRACE COVE – DON’T MESS WITH THESE BAD BOYS!

Juno, mom Mary Ellen, and friend Julie were out on the Niles Pond berm Sunday, admiring the Harbor Seals basking. We counted thirteen seals that afternoon.

I didn’t realize one seal had its mouth wide open until looking at the photos the following day. Seal’s use their strong teeth and powerful jaws to rip apart prey and are yet another reason not to get too close to a seal hauled out on land.


Julie, Juno, and Mary Ellen

TUBYLETTES (HARBOR SEALS) BASKING

As was everyone else, the Harbor Seals were enjoying Tuesday’s 50 degree weather. Much jockeying, grunting, and gnarling over prime rock-real estate was taking place. Paintings of nudes by Renoir and Botero, along with the made-up word tubylette, come to mind whenever I see these bathing beauties basking on the rocks at Brace Cove.

By the time I left after sunset, there were no less than fourteen Harbor Seals hauled out on the rocks.

DO SEALS HAVE TAILS?

While photographing the beautiful young Harbor Seal at Brace Cove this week I noticed a large protuberance centered between the seal’s hind flippers. It’s soft fur looked buffy gold in the morning light and it was much easier to see the seal’s anatomical parts than when photographing a darker, more mature seal. I at first thought the prominent knob was its penis, but after googling, discovered, no, it was a tail! However, I can’t find any answers as to what use the tail is employed. 

The bulging, rounded cone-shape between the seal’s hind flippers is a tail.

When Harbor Seals are on land their hind flippers are often closed together but this little guy was in a lolling mood. I watched him from my perch, where I was curled up on the rocks for some time, as he stretched, scratched, slept, and yawned.

The Harbor Seal’s V-shaped, or as I like to think of it as heart-shaped, nose nostrils close when underwater.

I think the seal is molting. Harbor Seals molt once a year and the fur of younger seals (up until about three years of age) is more uniform in color.

Harbor Seals, like all phocids, have ear holes, but no external ear flaps.

The Harbor Seal feeds predominantly on fish such as herring, mackerel, hake, salmon, flounder, and cod. They also eat shrimp, squid, clams, crab,  octopus, and crayfish. They swallow prey whole or tear into pieces, and use their back molars to crush shellfish. Typically the seals feed at high tide and rest during low tide. Everyday, the adult Harbor Seal eats approximately five percent of its body weight. 

Its hind flippers propel the seal through water, in a sort of sculling rhythm. True seals, like Harbor Seals, cannot rotate their hind flippers and that is why they scooch along on their bellies when on dry land.

The blunt one- to two-inch claws of the fore flippers are used for grooming and for defense. 


Harbor Seal grooming with its claws.

I went hoping for a beautiful sky and and found both sky and beautiful Harbor Seal.

Harbor Seal at sunrise, Brace Cove

SUNRISE SPECTACULAR ON THIS LAST DAY OF 2018 (HARBOR SEALS AND AMERICAN WIGEONS, TOO)!

The last morning of 2018 began with a gorgeously hued sunrise, and then, as so often happens on the wild and wonderful shores of Cape Ann, there were several chance and up close encounters with our local creatures. Nearly everyday I am reminded of the astonishing beauty that surrounds, from my East Gloucester neighborhood, to the natural habitats all around Cape Ann and Massachusetts. What a magnificent Planet we share!

Happy New Year and wishing you much love, joy, and beauty in the coming year.


Buffy gold juvenile Harbor Seal in the golden light of sunrise -an amazingly relaxed, young Harbor Seal was close to shore this morning, sleeping, stretching, yawning, and scratching. More photos tomorrow when I have time to sort through all.

And a duo of American Wigeons (both male) were foraging on the sea lettuce floating around the rocky coast. More about them, too. 🙂 Notice their electric green eye patches and baby blue bills.

NOVEMBER FROST MOON RISING OVER BRACE COVE AND NILES POND

November’s nearly full Frost Moon was rising over Brace Cove, while the sun was setting over the harbor. Violet sunset clouds swirled around the rising moon when moments later the moon shone brightly through the pine trees.

November’s full moon is also called the Beaver Moon-both the early colonists and Algonquin tribes named it so because November was the designated time of year to set Beaver traps before ponds and swamps froze.


November Frost Moon rising over Niles Pond

Harbor Seals in the setting sun and rising moonlight–a seal-a-rock 🙂

HAPPY AUTUMN DAYS!

Spring Peeper out and about before hibernating for the winter.

Relishing the last of these golden days, we took advantage of Sunday’s delightfully beautiful weather with a hike around Eastern Point. Several female Yellow-rumped Warblers were spotted feeding on seed heads, a lone turtle was basking on a sun-warmed rock, the Harbor Seals were lolling about, and a tiny Spring Peeper was spied in the fallen leaves.

You can see why these sweet birds are called Yellow-rumped Warblers. Note the little flash of yellow on the rump of the warbler flying in the background.

Eastern Painted Turtle

Who me?

Harbor Seals warming in the sun.

THE HARBOR SEAL’S COAT OF MANY COLORS -By Kim Smith

Are these two seals even the same species? 

The answer is yes, both are Atlantic Harbor Seals! By far the most commonly seen seals found along the Cape Ann coastline are Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina), also called Common Seals, and with multiple sightings, they have certainly been making their presence known this past week. The coloring and spotted patterning of the Harbor Seal’s coat is highly variable, as you can see in the above photo, ranging from chocolate brown-black to palest silvery gray.

In recent years, Gray Seals have made an incredible comeback and are seen with much greater regularity in Cape Ann waters. And with their increasing numbers, the Great White Shark is also increasing in number, as Gray Seals are their preferred food. I don’t have a photo of Gray Seals, but found several on wiki commons media for the sake of comparing.

Gray Seals


Notice the Harbor Seals small and concave shaped head.

Harbor Seal vs. Gray Seal

  • Harbor Seals have a head that looks a bit too small for its body, with a concave shape, whereas the Gary Seal’s head is more proportionate, with a long straight snout–no distinguishable brow.
  • Harbor Seals nose nostrils are V-shaped; Gray Seals are shaped like a W.
  • Gray Seals are much larger at maturity: A full grown male Gray Seal weighs about 770 pounds, a full grown male Harbor Seal about 350 pounds, less than half the size of the Gray Seal.
  • When hauled-out Harbor Seals adopt a funny banana shape- ‘head up, tail up’ posture.

 

Notice the Gray Seals elongated snout and W-shaped nostrils

Harbor Seals V-shaped nostrils

Harbor Seal banana-shape

READ MORE HERE about the different species of seals found in Massachusetts from the Center of Coastal Studies.

Excerpt:

Harbor Seals are relatively small (1.5 meters, or 5 feet long), with a coat that varies somewhat with age, wetness and between individuals. Some pups are born with a light colored, lanugo coat (fetal fur that most mammals shed before birth). The lanugo coat is shed within a few weeks of birth. Most seals, though, are born with an adult coat that darkens with age.

Females in this area usually give birth in late spring and early summer. It is thought that females from Massachusetts migrate to quiet islands in New Hampshire and southern Maine to pup. Historically, harbor seals pupped in Massachusetts, and there are increasing sightings of very small pups here in May and June. Pups are able to swim within minutes after birth and can travel with the female while she hunts. On Stellwagen, small pups are often found treading water while waiting for mom to return from a dive.

Adults of both sexes are similar in appearance, with lighter undersides, brown to gray topsides and differing amounts of irregular spots throughout. Harbor seals’ front flippers have relatively small claws, and the claws of their hind flippers are tiny. At sea, they can be hard to spot. Only their heads are visible as they come up for air, their snouts are small and pointed, and they have a small but definite brow. If you have binoculars, you can spot ear openings just behind the eyes.

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Profiles of male and female gray seals.
NMFS Permit No. 775-1600-10

Gray Seals, Halichoerus gypus, are the largest seal found in the area, with males growing to 8 feet and weighing over 900 pounds (2.3 m. and 300-350 kg.). Females are somewhat smaller, measuring 7 feet and weighing less than 600 pounds (2 m. and 150-200 kg.). Besides size, the sexes differ in a number of ways: males tend to be darker with few light spots, while females tend to be light with dark, irregular blotches. Young can be easily confused with harbor seals. With a head-on view, gray seals have wide-set nostrils that form a W, while harbor seals have close-set nostrils that form a small V. Sometimes called horseheads, gray seals of both sexes have broad, long snouts that become more pronounced, especially in males.

Gray seals are endemic to the North Atlantic, ranging from the Baltic,western Europe to Canada and Northeastern United States. In recent years, the number of gray seals in New England seems to have grown. It is not yet clear if the Canadian population is simply growing and moving south, or if there are other, environmental factors at work.

Highly gregarious, gray seals are often found in large groups hauled out on quiet sand or rock beaches for rest and breeding. Females in this area, such as Monomoy Island in Nantucket Sound, give birth to one, white-coated pup from late December to mid February. The pup is nursed intensively for about 15 to 20 days on an increasingly fatty milk. Females come into estrus about 2 weeks after weaning their pups. Males are highly competitive over access to groups of females on shore. After fertilization, the embryo stops development and “rests” for 3 to 4 months before development resumes (delayed implantation).

Harbor Seals Brace Cove Gloucester

SEAL SUCCESSFULLY RETURNS TO THE WATER, ALL ON ITS OWN!

Walking along a sandy beach this morning I looked up to see in the distance a Harbor Seal hauled out at the water’s edge. I took a few photos, and then slowly walked backwards, towards the wrack line, in the opposite direction of the seal. After about half an hour, the seal fishtailed down to the water and was quickly lost in the surf.

This is the second Harbor Seal in two days that I have seen resting on the beach. The sea has been rough and tides lower than usual, but for whatever reason this apparently healthy seal was hauled out on the sand, the very most important thing we humans can do to help the seals is to keep your distance.

 

BATHING BEAUTIES

“Seal Rock” is without a doubt, the Harbor Seals favorite rock. There is usually a “king (or queen) for the morning,” and they determine who is allowed on the rock and who is not. Typically, the queen is the largest and she lets the visitor know, with lots of loud grunting and growling, if they are not welcome.

Harbor Seals are site faithful, meaning they will spend their lives along the same stretch of coastline where they were born, fish, and haul out.

Even though seals look like they are basking in the sun, they are actually hauled out to thermoregulate. Seals do not like to touch each other. Observe closely next time you see a raft on the rocks and you will notice that they go to great lengths not to physically come in contact with one another.

Brace Rock and “Seal Rock”

I am reposting the Harbor Seal psa because of a recent incident. What would be your initial reaction if you saw a seal hauled out on the beach? Most likely, to get up close to the seal to see if it was injured. That is human nature but it is actually the worst action you could take. The Harbor Seal in this video struggled to survive the world of curious humans. By approaching too closely, you could very well force the seal back into the water. Harbor Seals, especially juveniles, haul out for a variety of reasons, mostly to rest, less likely because of injury or illness, and oftentimes to escape a shark.

NO SELFIES WITH A SEAL PLEASE! AND WHY THERE WAS POLICE TAPE AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH

Monday morning there was a seal hauled out at Good Harbor and folks were taking selfies with the worn out little feller. Here’s what do if you come upon a seal that appears to be stranded on the beach.

DOS and DON’TS of Interacting with Seals on the Beach

DO stay at least one hundred and fifty feet away from the seal.

DO observe (from a distance, with binoculars or camera lens) for any outward sign of injury, bleeding or net entanglement, for example. If the seal appears injured, call this number: 866-755-6622 at the Northeast Region Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding and Entanglement Hotline.

DON’T try to feed the seal.

DON’T try to cover up the seal with a blanket

DON’T pour water on the seal.

DON’T let your dog anywhere near the seal (dangerous for both animals).

DON’t try to help the seal back into the water.

DON’T take a selfie with the seal.

Harbor Seals are semi-aquatic and it is perfectly natural for a seal to beach themselves. Seals haul out all year round, and for a variety of reasons. They use rocks, reefs, and beaches. The seal may need to rest, for thermal regulation (to warm up), to molt, to give birth, to socialize with other seals, or are trying to escape danger, such as a shark. When you force the seal back into the water by getting too close and frightening the creature, before it is ready to return to the sea, you are potentially causing the seal a great deal of harm.

Good Harbor Beach police protective barrier that surrounded the seal.

 

 

HAPPY FIRST DAY OF THE NEW YEAR SUNRISE (and one winsome Harbor Seal)!

Not the prettiest of sunsets, though not bad for a chilly January first morning. Initially it looked to be a bust, but the clouds parted a bit and the sun shone brightly through. Happy New Year wishes. I hope the coming year brings you much love, joy, happiness, and peace

Sunrise sequence January 1, 2017

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new-years-day-sunrise-eastern-point-gloucester-2017-brace-cove-21-copyright-kim-smithnew-years-day-sunrise-eastern-point-gloucester-2017-brace-cove-seal-1-copyright-kim-smithnew-years-day-sunrise-eastern-point-gloucester-2017-brace-cove-20-copyright-kim-smith

SHORT FILM: EXACTLY WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND A SEAL ON THE BEACH

Over the past few weeks there have been reports of seals on our local beaches. This short film was created because several summers ago a Harbor Seal came ashore at Good Harbor Beach. It is in people’s nature to want to help an animal that appears to be in distress, and the little Good Harbor Beach seal was no exception, quickly becoming the object of many people’s attention.

Finding seals on the beach is natural. They may be injured, but more often than not, simply need to rest. After making the film, I learned an additional reason as to why seals haul out and that is because sharks may be present. Forcing the seal back into the water by getting too close may be driving the seal toward the very creature it is trying to escape, and to its death. The distance recommended is 150 feet, at the very least.

THE HARBOR SEAL’S COAT OF MANY SPOTS

Harbor Seals spotted coat Atlantic ©kim Smith 2015Providing excellent camouflage, Harbor Seals have evolved with coats that blend perfectly with the surrounding rocks and sandy shores on which they “haul out.”  Each individual Harbor Seal’s pattern of spots is unique, with two basic variations, either a light coat with dark spots or a dark coat with light spots. Their bellies are generally lighter colored.

Harbor Seals are easily disturbed by human activity, which is the reason why they are all looking in my direction. I climbed way out on the rocks to get a closer look that they found disturbing enough, when a loud crash in the distance made them all jump simultaneously.

Harobr Seal white Atlantic ©Kim Smith 2015JPGFellow friends of Niles Pond and I have all noticed that the seal in the above photo is noticeably whiter. He has a big gash on his neck as you can see in the close-up photo, which I didn’t notice until looking through the pictures. I wonder if that is why he has been spending so much time on the rocks. Perhaps he is recovering.

Injured harbor seal ©Kim Smith 2015

Interesting fact: Although Harbor Seals have been seen as far south as the Carolinas, Massachusetts is the most southern region in which they breed.

Seals Basking…In the Fog?

Seals Brace Cove Brace's Rock ©Kim Smith 2015The seals appeared as delighted as we were for today’s return of warmer temperatures. Despite the lack of sunshine, I counted 22 socializing and lollygagging, five on one rock alone!Seals Brace Cove Brace's Rock Eastern point Gloucester ©Kim Smith 2015

Niles Pond driftwood ©Kim Smith 2015JPGThe giant twelve-foot log tossed by the sea, up and over onto the Niles Pond side of the causeway, is seemingly supported by nothing but frozen snow. And Niles Pond is still thawing, with only a small cluster of mallards huddled together in the center of the ice. I hope the swans return soon!

Niles Pond frozen ©Kim Smith 2015

VIDEO PSA: THE GOOD HARBOR SEAL ~ WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND A SEAL ON THE BEACH

The beautiful juvenile Harbor Seal was found on a foggy morning in midsummer. The seal was beached at the high tide line and its breathing was heavy and labored. It had no interest in returning to the water and needed only to remain at rest.

For the next six hours the seal struggled to survive the world of curious humans.

Learn what to do if you find a seal on the beach.

The two agencies listed below have in my experience been helpful:

Massachusetts Environmental Police: 508-753-0603

Northeast Region Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding and Entanglement Hotline: 866-755-6622

Reposted from August 14th. See original post here.

 

Pod of Harbor Seals at Brace Cove

Harbor Seals Brace Cove Gloucester MA ©Kim Smith 2013Click image to view larger

This morning at Brace Cove there was a pod of Harbor Seals sunning themselves; unfortunately a little too far out of range for my movie camera, but I tried filming nonetheless. They were wonderful fun to observe especially as the younger members of the pod seemed more interested in playing “King of the Rock,” rather than basking in the sun. It was challenging to figure out a total number because the younger seals were so playful, but I think there were ten in the herd. I only know this from one of the snapshots where you can see ten in all. Because the Harbor Seals were out of my camera’s ability to sharply focus, the footage may be too grainy, but I will try working with it.

In case you are wondering, as did I, a goup of seals is most commonly referred to as a pod or colony. The terms harem, herd, and rookery are also used, depending upon from where you originate.

I can only hope the young Harbor Seal hauled out at Good Harbor Beach earlier this summer has a pod to which it belongs!

Video: The Good Harbor Seal ~ What to do if you find a seal on the beach

The beautiful juvenile Harbor Seal was found on a foggy morning in midsummer. The seal was beached at the high tide line and its breathing was heavy and labored. It had no interest in returning to the water and needed only to remain at rest.

For the next six hours the seal struggled to survive the world of curious humans.

Learn what to do if you find a seal on the beach.

Written, produced, edited, cinematography, and narration by Kim Smith.

The Good Harbor Beach Seal PSA was created because of the lack of understanding on the part of my fellow beachgoers on how to mangae a seal encounter. Please help get the word out and please forward the link to friends and neighbors in other communities, whether or not the community is located by the sea. It was the folks from out of town that did not understand that the seal needed simply to be left alone. Thank you!

Although the Good Harbor Seal was not injured, help was needed with the gathering crowd. I called our local police, who in turn sent Lieutenant Roger Thurlow from the Environmental Police. Has anyone had experience with a marine stranding, and if so, is the following the best number to call: Northeast Region Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding and Entanglement Hotline ~ 866-755-6622? I will post your hotline recommendations here.

Technical note–The video was filmed without a tripod because I was afraid the tripod would look like a gun and didn’t want to further stress the seal. After reading more about Harbor Seals, I learned that their big brown eyes are particularly adapted to sight in murky water (i.e. harbor waters), but that their eyesight is not that good on land. In retrospect, I don’t think that the seal would have associated the tripod with a weapon. Also, I filmed at a distance much further away than my camera’s capabilities, which caused much vignetting around the edges of many of the clips. I didn’t want to stand close to the seal and be the filmmaker-who-becomes-part-of-the-problem, and not the solution.

Breaking News: Good Harbor Beach Seal Survives